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Following their arrest this past Thursday for poaching off of Helen Reef, the 28 -man crew of a Chinese fishing vessel has been escorted into Koror waters by Remeliik II, and is currently quarantining aboard their vessel off of the Marine Law Dock in Malakal.
The Division of Marine Law Enforcement has said that the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is determining whether the crew will be charged, but stressed that “we don’t want them any longer than necessary in Palau”, in fear that they may be carrying COVID-19.
The 19-man crew of the Remeliik, which intercepted the vessel, is also undergoing a fourteen-day quarantine aboard the patrol ship, also in the waters off of Marine Law Dock.
The 80-foot Chinese vessel was spotted by PAN Rangers in Hatohobei State on the morning of Monday, December 7. The fishing vessel was allegedly outside of Helen Reef, a protected area, but some of the crew were inside the lagoon aboard six smaller boats, harvesting sea cucumber. The PAN Rangers reported the illegal poaching to Marine Law Enforcement, and Palau’s new Guardian-class patrol boat, PSS Remeliik II, set sail from Malakal at 9am on Wednesday morning and intercepted the vessel around 5am the following morning.
The Chinese fishermen had harvested an estimated 500 pounds of sea cucumber. They had also caught a small number of reef fish, which were expected to be for their own consumption. The crewmen had allegedly attempted and failed to bribe the Rangers in order to keep them from making a report.
Some sources have identified the vessel as the “Zhang”, although this name has yet to be confirmed by Marine Law. At least some of the crewmen are expected to be from Hainan province, a small collection of islands in Southern China.
According to representatives from Marine Law, the crew of the Remeliik evacuated the Chinese fishermen from their fishing vessel onto the smaller boats before boarding and conducting a safety inspection of the ship. The Remeliik crew reportedly wore PPE’s while conducting their inspection, and gave a mask to the captain of the Chinese vessel while communication was ongoing.
While U.S aerial support was initially preparing to help locate the vessel, Marine Law says that the Remeliik intercepted and arrested the vessel before the plane could arrive.
The Remeliik escorted the Chinese ship back to Koror, which arrived at around 7am on Saturday.
Director Victor Remengesau of the Bureau of Maritime Security & Fish and Wildlife Protection says that, while the MOJ does not want the Chinese crew to come ashore and is working to escort the foreign crew out of Palau as soon as possible, it is important that Palau protects its territory against “unlawful entry”.
“We may care about COVID, but we can’t let people do what they want [regardless of the law],” Director Remengesau said.
The Director said that it is likely that the Chinese crew will return aboard the same boat, escorted by the Remeliik, but that they will have to make sure that the foreign crew has no intention of loitering in Palau’s waters.
The sea cucumber is estimated to be valued at around US$30 per pound, which could place the illegal catch at around US$15,000. Right now, the catch is still aboard the foreign vessel.
The arrest constituted the first law enforcement patrol of the Remeliik II, which was donated by the Australian Government and arrived in Palau this past October.
SOURCE: ISLAND TIMES/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
Media Helping Media